The Cold Hard Reality of Trump’s Child Separation Policy
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because family is fundamental.
In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?“
Cindy Madrid, 31, and her 8-year-old daughter, Alison Jimena Valencia Madrid, are Salvadoran immigrants whose plight was captured in June 2018 when a ProPublica reporter published an audiotape of Alison desperately asking a Border Patrol guard to let her call her family. This interview was conducted in Houston, with the help of a translator, and has been edited for clarity and length. Cindy answers questions while picking at a Caesar salad while Alison eats cheese pizza and periodically breaks out into “The Floss,” a popular dance move for American kids also known as the “Backpack Kid” dance.
My days here are mostly good, because I’m with family — I’ve got two sisters here in Houston. In the mornings, Alison’s aunt takes her and her cousin to school. She has to wake up at 6 a.m. to get ready. I can’t get a job right now because of my immigration status, so I help my sister out by cleaning houses.
In the afternoons, once Alison gets out of school, we go to the park or the pool in the summers. We see friends, go out to eat somewhere — we live in Chinatown, and I love Chinese food (to this, Alison groans: “Ugh”). Alison’s favorite food is Cicis Pizza. And Pollo Campero.
When we made the decision to come to the United States, we knew they were separating children from their families, but we thought it was just for a short time.
My last job in El Salvador was at a bank, where I helped with the loan process. I decided to leave after a gang member killed my boyfriend and threatened to kidnap Alison. I paid between $5,000 and $6,000 for a coyote [a smuggler — Eds.] to take us across the Mexico-U.S. border. The trip took 17 days, and there were about 15 of us, all driven in different cars crossing unmanned borders throughout Central America.
When we arrived at the Rio Grande River near Reynosa, Mexico, and McAllen, Texas, the coyotes said we had to cross the river — and that, once we did, we should try to be found by an American patrol. While people have drowned, we weren’t scared: It was 8 a.m., and I could see there didn’t seem to be any animals in the water or any major rapids. We crossed in an inflatable raft and, after walking about five minutes, the patrol found us. He didn’t have enough room though, so he told us to walk behind his truck while he drove. We walked another 10 minutes before being found by another patrol, which then gathered us all up and took us to a detention center.
They took us to the detention center, searched us, looked through our documents. I had my I.D. Then they put us in a very cold room. It was a refrigerator, basically. And there were a lot of families in there. We were there, together, pretty much all day, freezing. After about 8 p.m., they separated us. When we were in the ice room, an official came and just called Alison. And I asked, “Where are you taking her?” And Alison …
Alison, who has been listening, can’t hide her terrified expression. We stop the interview and ask if she is OK. She suddenly breaks down, sobbing into her mom’s arm. Cindy calmly goes to her car, and she gives Alison her tablet and headphones to play games on, while we continue.
I asked the officer where they were taking her. They basically said, “We’ll tell you later.”
All night passed, and I didn’t know about her. A few days passed, and they transferred me to Port Isabel Detention Center, where about 50 women were in bunk beds in what was like a big prison cell. About a week after arriving, a bunch of ICE agents and lawyers arrived to get information from me. When I came back from meeting with my lawyer, Thelma Garcia, the news was playing — we had a TV in the cell. That day was when I found out about the tape, because the news was on the TV, and someone else was like “Isn’t that you?” Telemundo had gone to El Salvador looking for my mom, and my mom was on TV, showing them pictures of me. Outside, people knew what was going on, but inside, people didn’t know.
When we made the decision to come to the United States, we knew they were separating children from their families, but we thought it was just for a short time. One of my sisters came that way when Obama was president: They came on a Saturday, and on Sunday they were back together. But this administration is different.
Alison loves to watch the news when she wakes up, so we’ve been watching the stories of families who now have to wait in the dangerous camps in Mexico. I’ve heard that some parents have sent their children over the border without them, hoping they will have a better chance to be safe and get a lawyer. It’s not right. I think a mother should never leave her children. The best way to take care of them is to have them with you.
Since we were reunited, a lot of people have contacted Thelma and helped monetarily. That has helped us a lot in paying our bills, and helping with rent, since I can’t get an apartment. I’ve been going to a psychotherapy group, originally set up like Alcoholics Anonymous, but now it treats people with trauma. It’s really helped me mentally.
While I’m going to school to learn English, it’s a slow process. Alison is absorbing everything like a sponge. We have been to New York City, and visited Disney World (“But I’m scared of Mickey!” Alison pipes in, clearly listening to us through her headphones). My next court date is in November, and in January I will be able to apply for a work permit, which I’m looking forward to. Any job is good at this point: Cooking, cleaning, whatever.
I feel positive. I’m confident I have a good lawyer. And I trust God, and that everything will be OK.